One Month Until Judgment

Can you feel the tension in the air? It’s been a little over a week since Paris Saint-Germain returned from their winter break and drama off the pitch has taken over the headlines (late return of Javier Pastore and Edinson Cavani). There has been some action on the pitch. Two wins in both domestic competitions almost seem irrelevant in the face of the potential friction growing within the club between factions.

Thiago Silva’s comments stirred this combustible potion even further this week when he claimed Pastore was not long for the Parc des Princes–claims that El Flaco strongly denied via Instagram. The issue even brought out comments from sporting director Antero Henrique, who seems to speak only when he absolutely has to. All of this coming one month before the biggest game of most of these men’s careers–a date with Spanish giants Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.

Now, whether this tension is real, slightly exaggerated, or blown completely out of proportion by an overzealous media is beside the point. The club is one month away from judgment, and Silva’s comments, while I believe are true, were ill-advised. The comments act to rehash the worth thoughts of people who mock Les Parisiens. Think of the scene in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ where Bert Lahr comes out roaring and screaming at Dorothy, Tin Man, and the Scarecrow acting as tough as a lion should. Only for Judy Garland to pop him on the nose and turn the great lion into a cowering heap of nerves. To a certain extent, that is the metaphor that has described PSG in the Champions League during the Qatar Sports Investments-era.

Here stands this powerful, majestic lion who you assume is just ready to pounce and destroy. Only the lion gets bopped on the nose and runs to cower in the corner. In the case of Silva, the pressure of questioning forced a slip of the tongue that was unprofessional and divisive to fans and probably to the locker room as well. For a player who has given so much to the club, Pastore deserves the right to announce whether he is leaving or staying without his hand being forced by off-handed comments to the media by his teammates. To spin this back a bit though, the key to this mistake was pressure. The pressure to come up with an answer to a question on the spot without being prepared. This is the great Achilles heel of PSG, both off the pitch and on. In their case, pressure does not make diamonds, it destroys.

If PSG takes an early lead, they tend to put their foot down and throttle their poor opponents. If the game becomes a slog, the passing becomes less crisp, turnovers occur, and coutners are likely to bite them. If the other team scores early, collapse is likely to ensue. Think the difference between 4-0 against FC Barcelona at the Parc, and 6-1 to the same team at the Camp Nou. This is the running narrative that, at the moment, has yet to be challenged. The front-runners who cannot respond when challenged.

I can spend the next 15 minutes listing games where PSG cracked under pressure based on a solitary mistake. Whether the mistake is a counter goal, an opponents free kick outside the box, an ill-advised challenge, a goalkeeper mistake…I could keep going. If something goes wrong in a big game, PSG is likely to be irreversibly damaged by it. No club gets swept up in the momentum of a game like Paris, in both good and bad ways.

Paris Saint-Germain spent nearly a half billion Euros to fight this very narrative. They signed Neymar Jr., a player who has dealt with pressure his whole life and usually thrives on it, barring some incident here and there born out of frustration. PSG also signed Kylian Mbappé, a young prodigy who in the biggest games for AS Monaco last season, shined the brightest. They also signed Dani Alves, a player with loads of big-game experience across the continent. This team is supposed to be different, they are supposed to change the narrative. However, the comments made by Silva remind us that the PSG of the past is lurking, ready to once again reveal itself at the worst possible moment.

It’s one month until judgment and what PSG’s fate will be is still quite uncertain. Has the new PSG that has been building and improving for months ready to put it all together and defeat the two-time Champions League champions, making them the new de facto favorites a year ahead of schedule? Or, does Paris revert to what many want to think that they still are, a pretender, a fraud…a cowardly lion.

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Tags Antero Henrique Barcelona Champions League Edinson Cavani Javier Pastore Kylian Mbappé Neymar Thiago Silva
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